Sunday, October 16, 2005


..for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water..
- Isaiah 35:6-7

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire
The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire
The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire
We don't need no water let the motherfucker burn
Burn motherfucker, burn
- The Roof in On Fire, Bloodhound Gang

OK, a few random thoughts because i really don’t feel like getting into Waring’s book today – just finished reading it, second half is much better than the first half, but… i need a break!

It has been raining here for about a week – goodbye summer heat! – and so perhaps it is only natural that i have water on my brain.

Here’s what i’ve been thinking…
  • water is pretty heavy – you can see a chart here of exactly how heavy, but you can sum it up by saying that 1 liter weighs about 1 kilogram

  • According to the Canadian Environmental Law Association, “Sales of bottled water over the last ten years have been steadily increasing – in Canada per capita consumption has risen from 14.6 litres per person in 1994 to about 15.8 litres per person in 1998. In the United States the increase has been much more dramatic – with bottled water sales up by 68 per cent, and an average consumption of 53 litres per person.”

  • According to a study conducted earlier this year by Toronto Public Health and McMaster University, the air pollution that causes smog kills 818 people every year in Montreal, extreme cold kills 143 people and extreme heat kills anoher 121 - my guess would be that like those 14 homeless people who baked to death during a Phoenix heatwave earlier this year, those who die of heat are often dying from a lack of water. Want to know how many of those people who died of "extreme temperatures" and smog in Montreal were homeless? Me too, but from what i can see nobody bothers to keep track of deaths of homeless people here...

  • on July 14th 1987, one of our horrible Montreal heatwaves got broken by a storm that dumped 103 mm of rain within a two hour period – the Decarie expressway turned into a river and for years someone was putting up posters around town suggesting that the storm was a literal Act of God to either punish Quebec nationalism or Canadian federalism – it was never clear which.

  • Outside of the First World, one person in four lack access to clean drinking water – that’s over a billion people. Every day 4,000 children die because they do not have access to clean water. Or more accurately, we should say capitalism has denied them access to clean drinking water.

  • earlier this year Susan Murcott, a Boston-based engineering consultant at Ecosystems Engineering and a Lecturer at MIT, had this to say about water: “In Haiti, where there is a drought currently, I witnessed the women carrying the water. The mountain road/path they had to climb up and down was about 2 miles each way. The women carried 5 gallon buckets on their heads, filled with water (= 40 pounds). The water source in the valley was practically dry, a mere trickle of water, and that source served 8,000 people.” (see:

  • it has been years and years since i was in chemistry class (secondary 4!), but from memory you can see why a substance (like water) weighs what it does by looking at the molecular weight of its individual components. Water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen: hydrogen has a molecular weights of 1.008 and oxygen has a molecular weight of 15.999, so i get to blame exactly 15999/18015th (or just under 89%) of that kilo on oxygen.

  • Of the water available from West Bank aquifers, Israel uses 73%, West Bank Palestinians use 17%, and illegal Jewish settlers use 10%. (source: Palestine Monitor Factsheet on Water)

  • If you’re average, your body has five quarts of blood, and 55% of that is blood plasma – “a straw-colored, clear liquid that is 90 percent water.”

  • Although oxygen may account for 89% of water’s weight, it is pretty inaccessible - which is why it is so easy for us to drown. Even the little air bubbles which float around in healthy lakes and oceans are spread out in such a way that there is only 1/20 the amount of oxygen accessible in water as in the same volume of air - which is why fish need gills.

  • Hyponatremia is a fancy name for getting drunk on water, or water intoxication – it happens when you get too much water in your system and your brain begins to swell, and then water seeps into your lungs. You get nauseous and can't breathe, may pass out, may suffer all kinds of ill effects. You can even die from this, either from the brain swelling or from pulmonary edema. Most of us pee when we have too much water in us, but marathon runners who take too much water during their races and kids on ecstasy (which suppresses your urge to urinate) sometimes forget to do this.

  • “In 1993 Ontario's NDP government downloaded the costs for testing drinking water onto the municipalities. At this time the province was still responsible for the actual testing of water in provincially funded laboratories. Municipalities paid closely regulated government labs for this vital service.” Three years later the Tories privatized these testing labs. “Figures from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union show that 42% of the workers employed by the Ministry to test water samples were laid off, reducing the number of workers from 113 to 42.” (Source:

  • When supplies of water are low in the summer months, the Israeli water company Mekorot closes the valves which supply Palestinian towns and villages so as not to affect Israeli supplies. This means that illegal Israeli settlers can have their swimming pools topped up and lawns watered while Palestinians living next to them, on whose land the settlements are situated, do not have enough water for drinking and cooking. (Source: Palestine Monitor’s Factsheet on Water)

  • A 1999 study by the National Resources Defense Council found that in general the only difference between bottled and tap water was that bottled water was less rigorously tested, and thus more likely to be contaminated with gems or pollution; in fact 25% of bottled water was actually just bottled tap water!

  • Spring rains in 2000 washed cow shit into the Walkerton, Ontario town well. Tests revealed that e. coli bacteria was swimming in the water but the privatized lab failed to share this information with either the public or the public health authorities – 2,300 people got sick with bloody diarrhea and seven people died.

  • Under the Duvalier regime, a venture was established to sell the blood plasma of Haitians on the international market (who said imperialism doesn’t have blood on its hands?) When asked about this plan, biochemist Werner A. Thrill (technical supervisor of the operation), asked reporters: “If the Haitians don’t sell their blood, what do you want them to do with it?” (Source: The Uses of Haiti by Paul Farmer, p. 45)

  • In July 2003 Israel’s Transport Minister Avigdor Lieberman offered to arrange for buses to drive Palestinian political prisoners to the seaside, for he had ideas of how to use that natural abundance of water. He explained: “It would be better to drown these prisoners in the Dead Sea if possible, since that’s the lowest point in the world.”

This is how a science site i was checking out explains why water doesn’t burn even though all it is made of is oxygen and hydrogen - both of which are very flammable:

“The burning process in the case of oxygen and hydrogen is relatively simple. If you put together suitable volumes of hydrogen and oxygen and provide a spark to start the reaction, one oxygen atom will combine with two hydrogen atoms, and will release energy in the process. The energy gets released in the form of molecular kinetic energy, and since the motion is random, this is exactly what we call heat energy. The gases heat up, and as all expanding gases do, they expand. That fast expansion of hot gases is what we call ‘an explosion’.

What is the result of this burning/explosion? The answer is simple, if the proportions were right (one volume of oxygen for two volumes of hydrogen gas) all you get is water! Thus, water is already burnt. It is the ‘ashes’ of hydrogen after it has burned.”

Ain’t that cute? Water is the ‘ashes’ of burnt hydrogen and oxygen!

It made me wonder: what are we the ashes of? Could it be that at our best, the anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and anti-patriarchal movements might be described as the ashes of something that came before, an echo of a world past, what some call “primitive communism” and others remember as life before imperialism?

While reading Marilyn Waring’s book today (ah, i couldn’t completely avoid the topic forever) i had a pessimistic moment. She was describing – in a way that i may criticize in a future post – how women are enmeshed in society, are everywhere, and how of all groups for women it is most undeniably “right to rebel”, and she was arguing that if properly energized and catalyzed and mobilized this ubiquity could make women an explosive social force.

My pessimistic moment was as follows: i thought to myself that if you want to put out a fire you throw water on it. You don’t worry about the fact that water consists of hydrogen and oxygen (both of them explosive elements), you know that unless it’s an electric or grease fire you’re dealing with, those “explosive flammable elements” will put out your fire. Just because a group of people is “everywhere” and should theoretically explode doesn’t actually mean they will…

Depressing? Sure, but then this is what occurred to me:

If i burn my tofu into a charred mess i can’t turn it back into tofu again, but that’s because it’s “organic” (meaning it used to be alive, not meaning anything like it’s pesticide-free). Water is inorganic, which means that you can freeze it, evaporate it, “burn” it (to use the above example), etc. and it can pass through these different states to and fro with no real difficulty. Water is versatile. (This is a “from memory” use of the term organic, so y’know i may be wrong – but that’s how i remember it being explained to me, and regardless of the correct term to use what i’m saying about water’s malleability is true!)

So you can take water, which will put out most fires and is described as the mere “ashes of hydrogen”, and run an electric current through it (as described here) and… you get hydrogen and oxygen again!

This process is called electrolysis, and it has all kinds of industrial applications (from what i understand, it is different from the process used to permanently remove hair, even though that is also called elecrolysis), but what struck me was that our political theory and practice must aim to be like electrolysis – “social electrolysis”, transforming us from elements that drown out revolt and put out fires into flammable elements, ones that need only a spark to start an explosion…

And that’s what i have been thinking about, in the way of water…


1 comment:

  1. You are certifiably insane and need to be committed!!!